Tuesday, May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014

When Orson Welles was working with the Mercury Theater in New York City, he was approached by the Hollywood producer Carl Laemmle to do a quickie b-movie western called “My Pal, the King.” The plot of the film, written by Welles, is about a boy, played by Mickey Rooney, who is a king from a European country who comes out west to meet real cowboys at a traveling circus.   Eventually hiding his identity he joins the circus.  Meanwhile, the count from that mysterious European country decides that he wants the king to disappear for good, so that he and his family can take over the country.

The casting was set by Laemmle, with Tom Mix playing the head of the circus, Hank Darnell playing his side-kick (who is actually a real cowboy who knew how to do rope tricks), and James Kirkwood, who worked on many films with Mary Pickford, and rumored to be a very close friend of Rudolf Valentino,  as the evil Count DeMar.   Welles brought in Rooney as the star, who early that year, saw him play Puck in Max Reinhardt’s film production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Laemmle gave Welles a strict budget to do the film, and mostly it was going to shot in New Mexico.  Everything was going perfectly fine, till Welles came up with the idea of telling the whole narrative through the eyes of the little King.  Not only that, but he wanted the camera to represent how the king sees the world at the time.  So in a lot of scenes you hear Rooney’s voice, but not his face or his body.  To add a certain amount of visual menace to the film, Welles hired Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a German expressionist painter at the time.  He came up with the idea of painting the rocks in the New Mexico landscape black.   Which gave the environment an eerie almost Mars like look of the place. Welles didn’t want a naturalistic or place New Mexico in a realistic light whatsoever.  At the time, Welles was going through a period in his life when he was obsessing over the writings of Sigmund Freud.  He felt “My Pal, the King” should be told in a subjective style, than the original routine objective approach that was to be found in the script.

When Laemmle saw the rushes, he flipped. He took a train from Los Angeles to Sante Fe to fire Welles personally.   Once Welles was gone from the film set, Laemmle brought in the director Kurt Neumann, to finish off the film, using a new script by Thomas Crizer, who was employed with Harold Lloyd.   Welles, of course, was upset.  With the Mercury Theater, he was a king, and wasn’t was often treated in such a harsh manner.   He didn’t always want to think about it, but he must have realized that his vision will be for the rest of his life, a battle between how he sees the world, and how the world sees Orson Welles.
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